Friday, July 31, 2009

Denver Musings

I’m in Denver at a Mission Developers Training Program, run by the ELCA, our sister church in the US. I did this training seven years ago, but they’ve updated the program.

There’s, by far, MUCH more theological reflection than in 2002. Mary S Drier from Luther seminary took us through four basic theological foci, but through a missional lens. Thinking about justification by faith, the Two Kingdoms, theology of the cross, and Law and Gospel, through missional eyes was worked I tried to do in seminary (and ever since), but with limited success.

But this is work that we MUST do, if we’re to engage the post-Christendom world as Lutherans, with a rich, yet specific, theological tradition.

However, it seems like we were just getting going when the time came to an end. I guess there’s a lot to do with limited time. But still, FINALLY, someone talking about mission from a distinctly Lutheran perspective. I almost peed my pants.

This afternoon, many of us went door-to-door in suburban Denver under the guise of being representatives of Lord of the Hills Lutheran Church (great name, eh?). I wasn’t thrilled about doing this, but I figure that I might as well engage the whole experience.

But it was actually a lot fun! I met some guy who said he played for a band called One Republic. I figured he was either feeding us a line or One Republic was some garage band who played the local hillbilly bar.

So, I looked him up, and, this is the guy who answered the door (btw he owns three little, yappy dogs). He was the only guy interested in the church that we met that day.

So far I’m learning some new stuff and meeting some cool people. Tomorrow we do more theology and put more tools in our toolkits.

That’s assuming I can sleep. My roommate’s snoring is loud enough to announce the apocalypse.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

10 Years Ago...

...I was ordained to the Office of Word and Sacrament. 10 years ago Bishop Mike Pryse of the Eastern Synod laid hands on my head, rubbed oil on my hands, and asked me a series of questions that constituted my ordination vows:

EXAMINATION--The presiding minister questions the ordinand:

P: Before Almighty God, to whom you must give account, and in the
presence of this congregation, I ask: Will you assume this office,
believing that the Church’s call is God’s call to the ministry of
Word and Sacrament?
R: I will, and I ask God to help me.

P: The Church in which you are to be ordained confesses that the
Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and are the norm of its faith
and life. We accept, teach, and confess the Apostles’, the Nicene, and
the Athanasian Creeds. We also acknowledge the Lutheran
Confessions as true witnesses and faithful expositions of the Holy
Scriptures. Will you therefore preach and teach in accordance with
the Holy Scriptures and these creeds and confessions?
R: I will, and I ask God to help me.

P: Will you be diligent in your study of the Holy Scriptures and in
your use of the means of grace? Will you pray for God’s people,
nourish them with the Word and Holy Sacraments, and lead them by
your own example in faithful service and holy living?
R: I will, and I ask God to help me.

P: Will you give faithful witness in the world, that God’s love may
be known in all that you do?
R: I will, and I ask God to help me.

P: Almighty God, who has given you the will to do these things,
graciously give you the strength and compassion to perform them.
C: Amen

10 years ago. Who knew that time could fly so quickly? Who knew that ministry could be such a ride?

It was a hot night. 34C at 7:00 pm. That was outside. Inside the air-conditioner-free church, it was so sultry that even the walls were sweating. Maybe that should have been a sign.

But I must admit, my understanding of ministry has changed drastically in this time. I've changed. Or maybe God changed me. Or both.

When I started out you'd never see me without a dog collar. Now I rarely wear one.

I used to believe in a sharp distinction between clergy and laity, wearing the trappings of clerical power with enthusiasm.

Now I see no difference, and shun some outward symbols of clerical authority. Yes, there is some authority that comes from God through the church in the office of pastor, but I find that there's a greater authority that comes from simply being a baptized believer, trying to figure out – together, with the people I'm called to serve – what this whole Jesus thing is all about.

10 years ago I was a stickler for “proper liturgical practice.” Now I know that there's no such thing. That God is not bound to human traditions – including “proper” liturgy. I may wear fancy robes on Sunday mornings. But those garments symbolize EVERYONE, not just me. I am a mirror for the congregation.

My white alb (aka "Big White Dress") reminds people that THEY are baptized, made new, washed clean by Jesus, not just me. The stole around my neck calls people's attention to the reality that they too are yoked to Jesus, not just those with “Rev” in front of their names. The cincture – the rope around my waste – helps the congregation recall that we all are girded to Christ. The chasuble – or holy poncho – proclaims that all who are baptized are enveloped in God's love.

10 years ago I was much more theologically conservative. Now I know that “conservative” and “liberal” are fluid categories being rendered meaningless.

10 years ago I thought I had to cast a vision for the congregation to chase after. Now I know that it's GOD who casts the vision. And calls us to follow. God will be at work in the world, whether or not we are as well. God is not limited to working through the church. God just likes it when we're on board with what God is doing.

10 years ago I thought that the pastor was the voice of the church. Now I know that the pastor is one voice among many faithful Christians called to speak God's Word of mercy, justice, forgiveness, and peace, wherever they find themselves.

In other words, my job has nothing to do with me. And everything to do with God.

I could go on. These are just the highlights. But I think I'll wait and see what happens in the next 10 years.

God willing.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sermon: Pentecost 8 - Year B

Pentecost 8B from Good Shepherd on Vimeo.


“I'm sorry, pastor. I just don't feel fed. I'm going to find a church that feeds me.”

One of the hardest critiques a pastor hears is when someone leaves the church say, “I'm not feeling fed. I need to go to a church that feeds me.”

When I ask what they mean by “not being fed,” often, they can't really define it. It's a feeling they can't describe, a need they can't articulate.

But somehow, I, and those in leadership positions, are supposed to meet that unarticulatable (is that a word?) need.

It would be easy to shrug them off as being “consumer Christians” more interested in fuzzy, spiritual feelings and pretty Jesus words than following Jesus in the way of the cross.

We can dismiss them as being more concerned with inner-spirituality than in serving the world in Jesus' name.

We can ignore their concerns, saying that they're what's wrong with North American Christianity: self-centred, self-obsessed, self-satisfied purchasers of goods and services, treating churches as spiritual Wal-Marts rather than people who know their need for salvation.

But then again, who can blame them them? Maybe we've...(whole thing here)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sermon: Pentecost 7 - Year B

No, this isn't called the Lutheran Church of Kevin Powell...

Untitled from Kevin Powell/Lutheran Church of on Vimeo.


“Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” God asks David. It had been a long time since God was about to rest the divine feet. God's people had moving around longer than any of them could remember. And God went with them, carried in the ark of the covenant (made famous by Indiana Jones). God was tired. God's people were even more tired. It was time for Phase Two of God's Liberation Project.

“I took you from the pasture,” says the Lord, “from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies.”

If that wasn't good enough, it gets better:

“Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”

And so it begins. Israel's glory years. The golden age of David's reign.

Israel was now a REAL kingdom. With REAL power. No longer were they a wandering group of bumbling nomads, fighting with themselves, making people laugh at the God who rescued them.

Now they were established. They had arrived. Solid. They finally got a seat at the imperial grownup's table.

But those of us who know the back story, know that this wasn't what God REALLY wanted for God's people. God didn't want...(whole thing here)

An Inclusive Vision of the Church

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Frost and Hirsch: Mainline Applications

In parts one and two, I complained about Frost's and Hirsch's shallow theology and extolled the examples they offered. Evangelicals can be like that; poor theology with excellent practice.

Mainline churches have it the other way. Solid theology with poor practice. In fact, we mainliners tend to look down our noses at churches who are actually effective at making disciples of Jesus, and who show creativity and innovation in outreach and mission.

We tend to be happier with our noses in a three volume system of theology than with building new churches in bars or boathouses. We like READING and TALKING about new forms of mission. We're just not good at leaving the safe confines of our offices and studies to actually, with God's help, CREATE something new and effective.

Of course, this is an overstatement. But those who've hung around mainline churches know what I mean.

But, this is changing. In fact, I see a convergence happening between evangelicals and mainliners. A slow convergence, but it's there.

Mainliners are starting to think more creatively about how we do mission. We don't really know how to go about this, and we're floundering about, making each minor success look like an earth-shaking move of the Holy Spirit. But we're changing missional directions.

The Church of the Apostles in Seattle. Spirit Garage in Minnesota. The “postmodern” ministry in Saskatoon (with all its attendant problems of youth). A house church network in Winnipeg organized by a United Church minister. Presbyterians (of all people) doing “theology on tap.” Good Shepherd having a chili lunch for the neighbourhood. These are all off the top of my head. But this is just the beginning. God is moving us mainliners in new directions.

And some evangelicals are starting to read theologians like Walter Brueggemann, NT Wright (kind of a crossover figure), and Stanley Hauerwas, while also (re)discovering liturgy.

Many are disengaging from some of their right-wing (notice I didn't say “conservative”) political stances and are reflecting biblically and theologically on the Christian response to social issues: third world and inner-city poverty, the AIDS pandemic, climate change and stewardship of creation, unbridled capitalism, etc. They are starting to see God's redemptive activity as more than saving souls. Mainliners now have partners among some evangelicals in proclaiming and working in God's kingdom of mercy, justice, forgiveness, and peace.

Some cynics might say that mainliners are more open to innovative mission opportunities because of declining numbers, that this is just the last gasp of a dying church.

Maybe. If that's true then we're not going out without a fight.

But I think we need to learn that churches are not to do mission out of a need WE have, but out of a need OTHERS have. Too much of mission is to get people into church, keeping the institution going, providing fodder for the organizational machinery, rather than loving them as Jesus loves them.

In other words, mission becomes about US. Not about God, Jesus, or a sinful, suffering, world. To remain faithful to our baptismal calling, Christians need to remember that Jesus came to redeem and heal a hurting world, not to maintain an institution.

More on this in Part Four.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sermon: Pentecost 6 - Year B

Back in May, National Bishop Susan Johnson and a group of other national church leaders flew up to Ft.McMurray to take a look at the oil sands. She was part of the Kairos delegation (Kairos being the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, an umbrella organization for various church groups to engage social issues from a gospel perspective. Good Shepherd is a member of Kairos. Corrine Jerke is our representative) that went to see first hand what was happening in northern Alberta.

According to the Kairos website, they went “To explore the theological, social, and ethical implications of fossil fuel extraction in the Athabasca tar sands. To listen, discuss and learn more about the Alberta tar sands projects and their impacts on all involved communities: society at large, workers, Indigenous peoples and communities, and the environment.

“The delegation’s week-long tour included meetings with church and community members, Indigenous peoples, civil society groups, government and industry representatives” (

You might have seen the article about their trip in the Lethbridge Herald. And you might have read the letters to the editor the week following their visit up north.

One letter, specifically, was from someone VERY upset at church leaders sticking their noses where he believed they didn’t belong. He was angry that the churches were getting involved in social issue, instead of just sticking to our mandate of “preaching the gospel”and teaching the things of God.

I found it interesting that the...(whole thing here)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Censorship Sucks

Since when does CBC claim copyright on YouTube (if you clicked on the video on an earlier post you know what I'm talking about)? Here's a raw version of the video. Censorship sucks:

Frost and Hirsch Part Two: Stories and Examples

Real world examples are what makes these books good reads. Especially if you're someone who thinks that churches need to think much more creatively in how to effectively do mission. Even with poor theology as the backdrop, Frost and Hirsch excel in digging up stories of faith communities acting creatively, pushing boundaries of what it means to be “church.” Even redefining evangelism.

Exiles by Frost alone, without his accomplice, Hirsch, is the better of the two. But again, he beats the “Christendom is dead” drum that he and Hirsch hammered in The Shaping of Things to Come. Those of us who would read these books are probably well aware that Christianity is no longer the dominant cultural religion, and applaud Christianity's cultural demise.

But I liked the stories of the “churches” themselves. I hesitate to put “churches” in quotes because these are biblically valid forms of church. They just don't look like anything you or I would think of when we hear the word “church.”

For example, he tells the story of a would-be church planter in San Francisco who attempted to start a typical, evangelical, purpose-driven, mega-style church, but couldn't get anywhere in such a “tough” mission field.

So, instead of planting a church, he indulged his love of shoes and opened a fancy shoe store and creates Christian community at the store. He says he connects with more non-Christians in a the store in one day, than he would in one month as a typical church planter.

Also, there's the fellow with ADD who couldn't sit still in church. So one Sunday he decided to go waterskiiing instead. Feeling guilty that he wasn't in church. He asked his waterskiiing buddies if he could read some scripture and say a prayer before they started. He did. And in the months after, a group gravitated to him and he started a make-shift “church” among the boaters and waterskiiers, even creating a mission to help tow broken down boats back to the boat ramp.

In Vancouver, two young women, Marian and Kellie created a community of unwed young mothers, helping them with prenatal care, providing employability skills, as well as listening to their hopes and fears. They also offer the women opportunities to minister to others. They tell them about Jesus. But most importantly, the model the Christian life for these women.

The books is filled with these types of examples. Churches meeting in booths at karaoke bars or in refugee camps. Churches incarnating God's kingdom of love, mercy, justice, and forgiveness in their own, local, communities.

While I had deep theological concerns, the stories and the examples redeemed the book for me. I'm a sucker for a good church story. Especially one where people are thinking creatively, listening to the Holy Spirit's voice and following the Spirit's lead. As Frost rightly points out, God is already in these places. Our job is to get on board with what God is already doing.

In part three, I'll reflect on what these books can say to mainline Christians.

Part One here.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Overheard at our house

Our Five-Year-Old: Daddy, your belly's shrinking.

Me: It is?

OFYO: Yeah, you're getting thinner!

Me: I am?

OFYO: I better say bye-bye to your belly, (patting me on the belly) "Bye-bye, belly."

My Belly: Bye Bye

Viral Blogging: Frost and Hirsch: Part One

A few months ago I was invited to join “Viral Bloggers” (VB). A group of bloggers who are supposed to blog about some books. Since I'm always open to free books, I agreed. I liked this format better than getting books from publishers or PR firms who stop sending books if you write a bad review (which I learned the hard way). VB just want me to write about the books. They want to get a conversation started. So don't expect a traditional book review. Just random thoughts on what I read.

Here's my first post for VB. I'm supposed to discuss these two books together:

Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture
by Michael Frost & The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch.

I don't like self-styled and self-proclaimed revolutionaries, which Frost and Hirsch are. Right out of the gate they warn that then reader will “encounter revolutionary ideas that will sometimes unnerve you” (Shaping, p.ix). Really. I almost put the book down right there. They assume much.

Yes. In both books, they challenge current church practices and provide examples of people creating missional communities. But so do countless other books. Books they quote.

From that beginning they launch into a tirade about the collapse of “Christendom” or the decline of the cultural dominance of Christianity in the west, as if this were new information. Frost and Hirsch aren't the first to discover that Christianity is in decline in west (paging Soren Kierkegaard) or the first to celebrate the shift (Douglas John Hall, Lesslie Newbigin, et al).

This is the kind of intellectual sloppiness and, dare I say, dishonesty, that I often find among evangelicals. Not that we mainline folks are exempt from intellectual ethics violations. But I find it more among evangelicals.

Also, both these books are shallow theologically, but attempt to go deep. Like most evangelical thinkers, they see the world, church, and mission through Calvin's penal substitution atonement theology. Their gospel is mainly about saving people from their sins, rather than seeing God active in redeeming the whole creation.

Furthermore, they use a fundamentalistic biblical hermeneutic, but don't realize it. For example, they came up with the acrostic “APEPT” to describe what ministry needs to look like in 21st century. “[APEPT is] the term we use to describe the fivefold ministry formula found in Ephesians 4. APEPT is an acrostic for Apostles, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher.” Other than the fact that this “formula” has been used by the charismatic movement for almost a century, and notwithstanding their self-professed “genius” of their model, a close reading of the Ephesians passage does not provide a “formula”for organization. It simply describes what was happening in the Ephesian church.

But they DO try to broaden the Christian response to what God has done for us in Jesus. They talk about mission as action, and they critique the consumerist takeover of Christianity by business-savvy pastors. Those are excellent chapters. But, again, they present the material as if they're the first ones to say it.

However, for me, the most glaring problem with this book is that they assume the problems of Christendom are simply problems of organization, structure, and strategy. They don't ask whether their theology was shaped by Christendom, since it emerged from that paradigm. They assume that theology is eternal, untouched by social forces. As much as they talk about being “contextual” they try to pour old theological wine into new contextual wineskins. Much of what they describe as their missional goal is really a return to Christendom.

For example, they whine about the fact that people in Sweden no longer have a “Christian worldview.” A term they don't define, and assume that the reader will be on board with this concern. Once we get into issues of “worldview” we get into meta narratives, which falls into questions of power (my metanarrative can beat up your metanarrative), it gets weighed down by all sorts of philosophical baggage, baggage that the authors fail to consider.

The greatest weakness of these books is that the authors can't break out of their theological shell, although they seem to want to – and think they are. A broader theological reading might be in order for Frost and Hirsch. Good places to start would be Douglas John Hall's trilogy, and Jurgen Moltmann's The Crucified God and Church in the Power of the Spirit. Not easy reads, but will help them think more deeply about God's activity in the world and how Christians can faithfully respond.

I'll share what I liked about the books in Part Two.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Harper Pockets the Communion Wafer

As a clergyperson, and especially as a Christian who takes the sacrament with great seriousness, I'd find it troubling if ANYONE came to communion without the intention of receiving Jesus' body and blood, and put the wafer in his/her pocket. So, this isn't a partisan jab.

Why would Harper come up for communion if he didn't want to receive the sacrament? Did he think that NOT coming up would be dis-respectful to both Romeo LeBlanc and the Catholic Church? Did he think his absence at the altar would be unnecessarily conspicuous and that as PM he should participate in the sacrament since all eyes would be on him? Is this a gluten issue?

Whatever his reasoning, it looks like he's trying to hide something. And this action is disrespectful.

UPDATE: Harper responds and Archbishop defends him.

UPDATE II: Since when does CBC claim copyright on Youtube (if you clicked on the video above, you kn ow what I'm talking about)? Here's a raw version of the video. Censorship sucks:


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sermon: Pentecost 5 - Year B

“Jesus ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.”

What do YOU pack when you go on a trip? Are you that person who drags a 6-piece Samsonite luggage set through the airport, carrying everything from a hair-dryer, to formal wear, to 3 sets of swim attire?

Or do you throw a few odds and ends into a backpack so you can glide smoothly from one destination to the other?

Or somewhere in between?

While I’m not a seasoned traveler, I’m told that the more you travel, the less you know to bring. I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes a lot of sense.

Three years ago when our young adults went to Mexico for 10 days we decided that we were only going to bring whatever stores snugly into an overhead compartment or securely under the seat in front of us. We didn’t want to get bogged down waiting at the baggage carousel.

It was a wise decision. And when I travel, I usually do the same. I hate waiting at the airport. I like to just grab my stuff and go.

But Jesus says that we already bring too much with us if we can fill a small suitcase. If we are going to be traveling from place to place in Jesus’ name, then all we need to bring is that which hides our nakedness.

“Jesus ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.”

To be honest, I don’t know what to do with this passage. I DO know that...(whole thing here)

Friday, July 03, 2009

It's Not Easy Being a Christian

On the way home from convention, I was thinking about how hard it is to be a Christian. Not because an unbelieving world hates us (they don't. At least, not really), or because our numbers are dwindling.

I find it hard to be a Christian because of other Christians. We fight a lot. When Christians fight, it feels like the outcome has eternal significance. We talk about life, God, the meaning of creation, and somewhere in there lies the idea that, whatever we say about the Divine must be Absolutely True. No other truths need apply. And so, the church becomes one of the most political organizations on this beautiful blue planet fighting for the One Big Truth.

Visiting with a friend during convention, a friend who one would not call a believer (at least not in the classic, Christian sense. She can correct me if I'm wrong), but who is deeply perceptive of the things of the Spirit and of life, commented that she was surprised by the political goings-on at convention. The factions. The infighting. She thought that Christians might make a better effort to get along, if not actually love one another.

One would think.

For me, the biggest challenge of being a Christian is believing that God called this fractiously diverse group of people together and stamped God's name on its collective forehead. The challenge of believing that this is what God really wants for the church. That the church, as presently expressed is how God wants Christians to gather.

Apparently so. The earliest Christian documents were Paul's letters. And each of them were about how to deal with church fights. And these little churches could scrap. If these churches had noses blood would gush from them. They weren't any better at getting along than we are.

I guess that's why we live by grace. If God demanded perfect behaviour from us then we'd all better load up on cosmic sunscreen.

So, I suppose the real challenge is to live by this grace, forgiving others, being forgiven. I hate that part. I'd rather look down my nose at other Christians, believing I'm better than them. I'd rather fight the good fight against others, believing that, because my cause is just, I can behave against others any way I want to.

But that very act, that very impulse, tells me I'm not any better than them. And I fall back to grace.

Like I said. It's not easy being a Christian.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009